It is common for children to be unhappy now and then, but prolonged misery over something as simple as not being a good reader can make a child feel angry, sad and unpopular, and can make a child want to give up trying to learn to read. The question is, what can a parent do before the problem escalates?
A Poor Reader May Stop Trying to Learn to Read
There is a big difference between clinical depression in children and normal feelings of unhappiness. Clinical depression means persistent sadness, disruptive behavior, and lack of interest in participating in normal activities. Professional help is as important and necessary for children as it is for adults when suffering from a depressive illness.
However, being sad with good reason and learning how to deal with the feelings of unhappiness is part of childhood development. Unfortunately, if your child has an ongoing problem, it means the unhappiness is ongoing, too, and you may need to intervene. A poor reader is in a situation from which he can’t escape and he is forced to participate even when at a serious disadvantage—such as being required to read in front of the class. You have to worry that your child’s unhappiness will cause him to stop making an effort.
Avoid Making the Problem Worse in Your Effort to Help
We can all understand that no one likes to take part in an activity at which they repeatedly lose, and that’s what being a poor reading feels like to a child—he is losing. It’s embarrassing to stumble over the effort of trying to read a sentence or a paragraph in front of others. It would be embarrassing for us as adults; it’s equally embarrassing for a child. The classroom is a competitive field.
- Accept That Your Poor Reader Has a Reason to be Unhappy – When your child seems sad or unhappy about reading, it doesn’t help to tell him to cheer up, suck it up, and keep trying. The message should not be, “Don’t tell me you’re unhappy; I don’t want to hear about it.” It is okay to show some sympathy and talk about your own experiences at having to try and try again to learn a new task.
- Resist the Impulse to Show Impatience or Irritation – Even when it seems that your child isn’t concentrating or trying, hang in there and assume he is doing his best. You may not really understand what his problem is; he may be concentrating and trying but repeatedly failing.
- Don’t Make Fun of Mistakes – No matter how hilarious the error, resist the effort to joke about the mistake, or make fun of the reader.
- Threats, Unlike Rewards, Won’t Help – If the child is unhappy with reading, threats of punishment that will be inflicted if he doesn’t “try harder” will make him more likely to develop a hatred towards mastering this very necessary skill.
Make Sure There Isn’t a Physical Problem
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and conduct disorder (CD) are terms that are bandied about very freely in the education field today. Your child may demonstrate symptoms of any one of these disorders simply because he has trouble learning to read or because he has a minor learning problem; it doesn’t mean he actually has a disorder.
- Have His Sight Professionally Tested – Talk to an optometrist who is familiar with evaluation testing and vision therapy. Your child may have trouble reading even though he can see both far and near. Tests may show that the eyes are not aligned, eye teaming (their ability to work together) may be faulty, or eye tracking is poor. Vision therapy can correct all these problems.
- Have his Hearing Professionally Tested – You may not notice a hearing difficulty, but children who miss sounds in some parts of the hearing register have trouble pronouncing words and this affects reading skill, too.
- Have Professional Testing if the School Suggests a Learning Disorder – Teachers can recognize symptoms, but can’t actually diagnose ADHA or CD, etc. Don’t accept only a classroom opinion; request professional confirmation.
- Stay Positive – Frequently remind your child that he will learn to read and you’ll help him or you’ll arrange for someone else to help him if you can’t. Even a learning disability can be overcome.
Until proven otherwise, assume your little reader is fine and will soon learn to read better and will even learn to enjoy it. Hang in there and do your best to make home reading as routine and as much fun as possible. Find the best books, stories, and cartoons that you can—adventure, mystery, humor—and make sure they are slightly easier to read than classroom material. Concentrate on having as much reading fun as possible, and offer small rewards for each accomplishment.
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